JERUSALEM, Jan. 21, 2010 — -- The Israeli Ministry of Interior has stopped granting work visas to foreigners who work for aid agencies in the Palestinian Territories and East Jerusalem.
But in recent months foreign staffers for organizations like Oxfam, Save the Children and Doctors without Borders have been denied proper visas by Israeli authorities. Instead they are getting tourist visas which do not permit the holder to work and only last three months.
The head of Doctors Without Borders in Jerusalem Jean-Luc Lambert told the London Times, "We are now in a very precarious legal position. We can't get B1 visas (work visas) only tourist visas and with this it is not permitted for us to work."
Since Israel took over the Palestinian Territories including East Jerusalem in 1967, aid workers have been given year-long work visas and have been able to use them in occupied areas.
Aid workers fear this new restriction is intended to limit their access to Palestinian areas particularly in contested East Jerusalem and those parts of the West Bank which are officially under full Israeli control.
Katherine Weibal from Oxfam told ABC News today that Israeli authorities stopped handing out work visas in autumn 2009.
Several of her organization's 22 foreign staffers are now living precariously on tourist visas. She said different Israeli officials have told staff different stories about the practical implications.